Next Tuesday, Israel will hold national elections for the fifth time in a decade.  With the looming threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions, continuing tensions over Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and stalled peace negotiations with the Palestinians, many Israelis are approaching the polls with security as their top concern. The issue of Israel's assault on militants in Gaza is very much on the minds of voters.  

 Who's Running?
  • Likud [nationalist]
  • Kadima [centrist]
  • Yisrael Beitenu [ultra-nationalist]
  • Labor [center-left]
  • Shas [religious orthodox]
For Miriam, a shopper at West Jerusalem's bustling Mahane Yehuda market, the choice next Tuesday is simple.  She wants a change.  She has strong words for current Israeli leaders who she says did not go far enough in their assault on Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and she says her vote will go to the hardliners on Tuesday.

She says the current leaders are "stupid" for not finishing the job.  She says they should have continued with the war until they "finished off" the militants.

Her sentiments reflect the frustration that many Israelis have over what they see as their leadership's failure to secure peace.

The ruling centrist Kadima Party headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gained popularity in the polls during the assault.  But weeks after the cease-fire, rockets from Gaza have continued to hit southern Israel and public opinion polls show support building again for tough-talking former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is campaigning  on the slogan "Strong on Security, Strong on the Economy".

Mr. Netanyahu says the only way to stop the rockets is by toppling the Iranian-backed Hamas leadership in Gaza.  He has pledged to continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but says he will focus more on developing the Palestinian economy rather than on giving territorial concessions.

"The Likud government under my leadership will continue the peace talks, stressing security and economic development," he said. "And I believe that we have a good chance of winning.  And I think that when we do, this will enable us to move peace closer and move terror further away."

Mr. Netanyahu has vowed to preserve Jewish settlements in the West Bank - something that puts him at odds with some in the international community who have condemned the settlements as an obstacle to peace.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been Israel's top negotiator in the latest round of talks with the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  She is seen by many as someone open to negotiations but who - as demonstrated in the assault on Gaza - is also willing to use force.

Other Players
  • Israeli Arabs
  • Ultra-orthodox Jews
  • Peace activists
  • Senior citizens
  • Environmentalists
"I believe that the interest of Israel is two states for two peoples so I supported deeply the Annapolis process," she said. "And I believe in the dual strategy - on one hand, to work with the moderates, with Mahmoud Abbas and others, and on the other hand, to act against terror."

The peace talks initiated by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007 stalled after making no visible progress.  The failure of the negotiations, along with the continuing threats of Hamas and Iran, are all factors working against her.

The war in Gaza, which once boosted Livni in the polls, has also damaged her popularity.

Elections QuickFacts
  • Israelis vote Tuesday for new parliament, or Knesset
  • 34 party lists vying for 120 seats
  • Each list ranks candidates according to party preference
  • Some lists cover several parties
  • 2% national vote needed for Knesset entry
  • Low threshold means many parties involved
  • Usually need coalition to win 61-seat majority, form government
  • After vote count, president chooses PM-designate
  • Has 42 days to negotiate coalition, name Cabinet
  • If unable, president may chose other lawmaker, has 28 days
  • If wins majority support, government sworn in
"The mood in Israel is very antagonistic, I would say, against the Arabs and there is no appetite for peace right now," said Akiva Eldar, a political columnist and author in Tel Aviv.  "There is more appetite for war.  People want more of the same.  They are not happy with the results of the war, not because what some people believe [that] we did some war crimes, but because they believe we should have been tougher.  They complain that there are still rockets coming out of Gaza."

Trailing a distant third in the polls is defense minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who led the assault on Gaza.  Analysts say Mr. Barak lost much support among leftists who opposed the scale of the attack and among rightists who disagree with his willingness to give concessions in exchange for peace.

Tuesday's elections were originally due next year. They had to be called early after Tzipi Livni failed to form a coalition government last year when she became head of the Kadima Party, following the resignation of Ehud Olmert.  Mr. Olmert was forced to step down while facing corruption allegations.   

The winner of Tuesday's elections will have to form a coalition government.  Public opinion surveys indicate that of all three major candidates, Benjamin Netanyahu would have the least trouble doing it.  Recent surveys show a number of smaller, hawkish parties would win enough seats in the Knesset - Israel's parliament - to get Mr. Netanyahu the majority he needs to form a government.